You probs know by now that discharge (the white stuff you find in your underwear) is more than just something you'd rather people didn't see. It's actually cervical fluid that comes in various consistencies, and can give you insight into your monthly hormonal changes and what's happening inside your body at any given time.
So we asked Clue, the period and ovulation tracker app, to give us a better understanding of what means what down there.
Here's the biology part: The cervix is the passageway between your lower and upper reproductive tract, which has glands in and around that produce fluid (also known as discharge). The quality, consistency, and volume of this fluid changes along with your cycle, and while these changes are different for everyone, discharge tends to follow a consistent cyclical pattern.
It changes in quality, quantity, and function in response to your changing hormones. At different times, cervical fluid acts to facilitate or prevent sperm from moving past your cervix, and it also contains antibodies, and helps to keep out unhealthy bacteria and viruses.
This is a rough guide to what your discharge will look like depending on where you are in your menstrual cycle:
1. Menstruation - start of cycle
On day one of the cycle, both estrogen and progesterone are low. The cervix is not likely producing much fluid, but you won't be able to tell because it's mixed in with blood, endometrial tissue, and dissolved remnants of a disintegrated egg.
2. Dry/sticky - early-to-mid follicular phase
In the early follicular phase, estrogen starts to rise (it's produced by your follicles as they grow). This rising estrogen leads to increased production of discharge. You probably won't notice much of it in the days after your period—these are "dry" fluid days for many people—but some might notice "sticky" discharge. Typically, discharge becomes noticeable around the middle of the follicular phase (day seven in a 28-day cycle).
3. Creamy - mid-to-late follicular phase
It may start sticky, but as estrogen and water content rises, discharge tends to become "creamy," cloudy (not clear), and whitish or yellowish. Research has shown sperm can start to swim through discharge on about day nine of a 28-day cycle.
4. Egg white/wet - late follicular phase/mid-cycle
As ovulation approaches, more cervical fluid is produced. Discharge becomes stretchier, clearer and more wet and slippery—like a raw egg white. This tends to "peak" about one to two days before ovulation, when oestrogen is highest. Around that time discharge can often be stretched several inches between your finger and thumb, while for others it may be more watery. The amount of peak fluid the body produces is different for everyone, but it can be up to 20 times more in some cases. This discharge is about 95 percent water in weight, and five percent solids (electrolytes, organic compounds and soluble proteins). If you're having sex and using lube, you may notice you need less around this time.
5. Dry/sticky - luteal phase
As soon as ovulation is over, discharge changes. Even before you notice a visual change, it will already have become more fibrous and less penetrable for sperm. In the day or two after ovulation (the first days of the luteal phase), the amount of discharge lessens and becomes much thicker. Progesterone, the dominant hormone in this phase, acts to inhibit the secretion of fluid from the epithelial cells. You may notice little discharge, or it may be sticky.
P.S. Every body is unique, so changes may show up differently for each individual person.
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This article originally appeared on Cosmopolitan.com/uk. Minor edits have been made by the Cosmo.ph editors.